Lately, the stock market has been a lot like the weather in Rochester, NY. If you don’t like it, you only have to wait three months for things to radically change. The fourth quarter of last year was one of the worst since the Great Depression. But we didn’t have to wait long for redemption. It arrived early this year, with a 13.6% gain in the first quarter (see market segment returns in the nearby graph).
Perhaps the fiercest advocate for the individual investor and shareholder rights ever to walk the planet died during the first quarter: John C. Bogle, who preferred to be called Jack by his legion of friends, founder of the Vanguard Group. Jack was best known for launching the first index mutual fund in 1976. This new approach to investing would ultimately revolutionalize the entire industry
We are in a highly regulated business, which causes a few headaches, but regulations are largely good; they offer our clients important protections. There are certain disclosures that we are required to make regularly regarding our policies and procedures.
The stock market declined by 4.4% in 2018. It was the first year stocks posted a loss since 2008. The S&P 500 rose 20% in 2017, 12% in 2016, and more than 13% annualized over the last decade. Yet, a one-year decline of 4% has caused all sorts of consternation. I admit that the peak-to-trough loss was much larger (17.5% so far), and the fourth quarter was one of the worst on record (down 13.5% in just three months).
The third quarter of 2018 was a mixed bag for investors. Stocks, at least domestic stocks, performed admirably. The S&P 500 rose 7.7% in the quarter and is now up 10.6% year-to-date. Small-cap stocks have performed even better so far this year, rising 14.5%.
The mid-term elections are right around the corner. That means that the phone is ringing with questions about how the elections could impact the stock market. Generally, we prefer to keep politics and investing separate, but we grudgingly accept that they can influence one another in the short run.
Where is the US economy headed?
Recent news coverage about an inverted yield curve, potential trade wars, and troubles in emerging markets have created some unease.
While it may come as a surprise, the second quarter of 2018 was actually quite strong for stock investors. The S&P 500 rose 3.4%, mid-cap stocks gained 4.3%, and small-cap stocks returned almost 9.0%. Even REITs rebounded in the quarter for a gain of 7.8%.
Certainly, we’re in a divided age currently where the glass could look half full or half empty depending on which side of the political aisle you sit. Unfortunately, that has been true for some time now. The same dynamic is also at play in the stock market.
The SEC recently approved two new rules: (1) the adoption of new FINRA Rule 2165 (Financial Exploitation of Specified Adults) to permit members to place temporary holds on disbursements of funds or securities from the accounts of customers where there is a reasonable belief of financial exploitation of these customers; and
Volatility has returned. While stock market returns were truly remarkable in 2017, the good times only continued into late January of this year. Since then, the market declined more than 8% from its peak into the end of the quarter. However, the downturn isn’t the real story.
We started using the Stone Ridge Alternative Lending fund (LENDX) roughly a year and a half ago. It has returned around 6% annualized since we started investing, which is in-line with our long-term expectations for alternative investments.
Small-cap value stocks have been uniquely poor performers recently. They posted strong returns in 2016, but otherwise, each of the past seven years small-cap value stocks have either significantly lagged or just barely beat large-cap growth stocks.
Index investing was much in the news in 2017. An article in the Wall Street Journal in late November noted that U.S. index funds have seen cash inflows of around $1.7 trillion since 2009, compared with outflows of nearly $1 trillion for actively-managed mutual funds. Another article noted that investors had collectively invested $436.5 billion this year into index funds globally through December 20, according to EPFR Global.
While 2017 was a great year for stocks, it was mediocre for alternative investments. The benchmark index we often look at, the HFRI Fund-Weighted Composite Index, earned 8.5% last year. While that isn’t too bad, our alternative investments did not produce returns in that range.
We are in a highly regulated business, which causes a few headaches, but is largely a good thing that offers our clients important protections. There are certain disclosures we are required to make regularly regarding our policies and procedures. A few of them are
Today, socially responsible investing, or SRI, accounts for around 25 percent of all managed assets in the U.S. The percentage is even higher in Europe and is rising fast in parts of Asia. SRI investing can take many forms, but the most popular is negative screening. That means excluding companies that participate in undesirable activities, such as the manufacture of tobacco products, weapons or fossil fuels. However…
The third quarter of 2017 was one of continued political strife at home, missile launches and increasing tension in Asia, several devastating natural disasters, and efforts by the Federal Reserve to slow the economy. In the face of that, the stock market rose to record highs.
By now, everyone is aware of the massive data breach at Equifax. Something like 143 million Americans had their personal information exposed in the hack. That effectively means that every American adult was impacted. You can check to see if you are on the list here: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. I’ll bet you are.
Our alternative investment portfolio was looking pretty good through August of this year. All of the funds except one were in the black, and returns were on track for around a 6% gain. Then September hit.
We may have announced it before, but we recently updated our website. There are a host of resources there, including electronic versions of all our newsletters, articles, and even a few videos. We try to send most of this to you directly, but there are a few items that you likely missed.
We’ve been getting a lot of questions about our alternative investments recently, so we thought we would introduce a new, at least quasi-regular, column in our newsletter focusing on this asset class. We’ll talk this time about why we use alternative investments, but in the future, we’ll do a deeper review of some of the funds.
We recently added a new team member. Craig Julien joined us in early June to help us with our systems, operations, and IT. Craig has a couple decades of experience in the IT industry, most recently with the accounting firm EFPR Group. Accordingly, Craig knows firsthand about data security and the importance of confidentiality in the financial industry. He’s already done a great job of tweaking our systems so they are more efficient and user friendly, and we’re looking forward to some enhancements that will make electronic account access easier for our clients as well.
The first quarter of 2017 was a solid one for stock investors. Large-cap stocks rose over 6.0% in the quarter, as measured by the returns of the S&P 500 index. Historically, election years and the first year of a Presidential term are the strongest for stocks, and 2017 is shaping up to follow the historic pattern.
It is conference season, which means we’ve been on the road lately meeting with fund companies and hearing about their latest research. One point that virtually everyone is making these days is that traditional asset classes (stocks and bonds) are richly valued, and likely won’t generate the same level of returns in the future that we have experienced historically.